The following blog is written by Grace, our summer intern:
I have only been interning at Sox Place for two months, but everyday holds surprises. Sox Place strives to form relationships and be a place of comfort and encouragement. I started my internship this summer hoping to help do that for others but I didn’t know that it would happen to me. When I met Lynne and Shea, on Thursday, July 12, God worked through Sox Place to form a relationship that stretched across the country.
It is early afternoon. I’m hanging out in the drop-in center playing pool and talking. A well-dressed lady walks up behind me and her adorable dog catches my eye. A lot of people have dogs at Sox Place so I wasn’t too surprised but I stopped to ask her dog’s name. After petting him for a minute, I turn back around to my pool game. Then a man walks up to where I’m standing and introduces himself to me.
Lynne and Shea are caring people and love to give back, but they also have a deeper story that binds their lives to the lives of many street kids, and now, also to my own life.
Earlier that day, the drop-in center isn’t open yet and all the staff are upstairs getting ready for the afternoon. Jordan stops into the office where I’m working and mentions that someone just contacted him and wants to meet me. Immediately, I’m confused. Jordan explains that he didn’t catch the whole message and just knows that this guy and I share a mutual friend and that he has a connection with Sox Place.
The guy was Shea, and his daughter, Andrea, an avid poet, a journalist, and a lover of animals hung out downtown and identified with other street kids. She found comfort and refuge in Sox Place and knew Doyle well.
In 2010, their daughter Andrea, aka “Rinu,” died from the “choking game.” The “choking game” is a game that young people play to get a sort of high by blocking the oxygen flow to the brain and causing them to get dizzy or pass out. This dangerous game turns deadly when the person playing is not able to stop the choking quick enough to get a breath.
Andrea’s parents have been visiting Sox Place regularly since she passed two years ago, donating journals, socks, deodorant, and bandanas, striving to keep Andrea’s legacy alive and inspiring other street kids to write and make their stories heard.
After the death of their daughter, Shea and Lynne not only kept in contact with Sox Place, but they also reached out to other organizations and joined an online support group that connects families and parents of those who have died from the “choking game.” Through this support group, Andrea’s parents met others grieving the loss of a child yet striving to raise awareness and bring hope to others. One of the other parents that Shea and Lynne happened to connect with was Kelly, Jay’s mom.
I’m from a small town in Tennessee, over one thousand miles away from Denver. I attended the local public school and had class with many of the same kids for seven years. Jay was one of those kids. He was involved in school, well-known, and liked by his classmates. One of the first of our classmates to die, Jay left an impact on all of our hearts. The summer after graduation, news spread through Facebook, the news, and word of mouth that one of our friends and classmates had passed away. We were off to college, finding jobs, and starting families, but in a way Jay’s passing brought our high school class closer together. Today, almost three years later, I was brought back to that summer, those friends that I have lost touch with, and the faces I haven’t seen in years.
When I first talked to Shea, he began explaining the links that brought us together. After reading the recent newsletter, and recognizing the name of my home town as that of Kelly and Jay’s, Shea and Lynne took a leap of faith and contacted me.
I believe that many miracles have happened at Sox Place and that God is present in every person who walks through the door. I don’t know exactly what Lynne and Shea saw in me that day, or what they were feeling, but in them I saw a glimpse of something powerful. I saw a connection to my past, through Jay and his mother, and a connection to Andrea, a friend that I’ve never met, yet an angel that has brought people together.
Isn’t it interesting what “normal” is to each individual?
For one person, normal may be to brush his teeth as soon as he get up. Another person may see normal as waiting until after breakfast to clean those pearly whites. One culture considers belching after a meal a compliment, while another sees it as rude. “Normal” holiday traditions vary so much that compromises are needed when two families come together. But, really, all of it is “normal.” Sure, we may argue over which traditions and habits are better, but usually none of it is bad, just “normal” for that person.
Sometimes, what surprises me the most at Sox Place, is what “normal” is for the kids that walk through the doors. Food stamps, the hope of a disability check, the foster care system, spanging (asking for spare change, as in “Do you have any spare change?”), and lining up at a food pantry are what takes up their typical day. This daily agenda may not be normal for us, but for the homeless or poor it can be very normal. The worst, for me, is when the guys talk about “sharing” the girls or the girls talk about trading sex for a place to sleep. And they talk about it as if it was no bigger deal than the weather changing. It is the way of life for a street kid.
Then it becomes a perpetual cycle – the norm, if you will: someone becomes the victim of the foster care system, the street becomes their home, they find some sort of “street family” where it is implied that they are to trade something to be a part of the group (most likely, for a girl, this will be her body), she gets pregnant, has a kid, child welfare takes the child away, and the whole thing starts over again.
The problem isn’t that this is different from my normal or that I’m somehow better than these kids; the problem is that this should not be anyone’s “normal.” But these kids don’t know how to change when their only job experience is selling drugs (they know fractions and distribution) and the only shelter they’ve ever known has been full of hate; and they don’t want to be the kind of “normal” that they are told to be by the government officials and “yuppies” who look down their noses at the grungy kids with too many bags.
So, how does one demonstrate that normal doesn’t have to include trading sex for a place to stay on a cold night or drinking too much in order to numb horrific memories? Love; compassion; patience. When a life is lived with a true Christ-like compassion – seeing everyone as an equal, these kids will have an example of a normal that is not painful. Sometimes this may be simply acknowledging the bum on the street corner. But it also includes an everyday attitude of love, generosity, and humility, because you never know who is watching you.
A story of two who escaped a magazine crew in Denver
I got a phone call Monday afternoon, June 4 of this year. The voice on the other end was of Pastor Bob Blevins in Pocomoke, MD. He had gotten my name and cell number from our District headquarters; they had told him that I could help with his problem. The problem? A victim of human trafficking named Shannon was in Denver and wanted to go home. She had called her mother back in Maryland and she turned to Pastor Blevins, the only resource she knew to turn.
Pastor Blevins gave me a description of Shannon: tall, slim, 18 year old girl, and had a tattoo on the left side of her neck. She was supposedly at the bus station where she and a friend slept outside on the sidewalk Sunday night. I left the comfort of my home (actually reading in my hammock) and went to the bus station, but no Shannon.
I walked the 16th Street Mall from one end to the other looking for this girl I had never talked to or met. She was a statistic, another victim of the scam called a magazine crew. * But she was a daughter of a very worried mother who loved her; Shannon was worth rescuing!
I walked along Broadway Street where many of the street youth hung out. Walking up to choruses of “Sox!” or “Doyle!” I began telling a few of them what I was doing out on a Monday afternoon, that I was looking for this girl who was in trouble and needed to be found. Krazy said that she thought she had seen her, but didn’t know for sure.
Another youth, named JA, said that he would help put the word out. JA is a junkie, addicted to heroin and barely hanging on, but willing to help find this girl, a stranger from another state. Out on the street, a stranger is often taken in and watched over. Many of the youth said they would keep an eye out for her.
I was playing phone tag with the pastor, who was talking to Shannon’s mom on a borrowed cell phone; the leader of the magazine crew had stolen Shannon’s cell phone. The leaders of the crew use verbal and physical intimidation, along with physical and sexual abuse to get the workers in line. Shannon fortunately had not been subjected to the abuse.
I headed back to the bus station and found her along with her friend David, who also left the crew. They were shaken, but no worse for the wear. They told me that some of the leaders of the crew had come to the station and surrounded them to intimidate them into coming back. The crew didn’t want them to leave because Shannon and David were money in their pockets. Remember the whole deal is a scam to make money off unsuspecting youth selling a false product. They would have to recruit and “train” others if they left, but when these people saw me, they figured the kids were not stranded and left them alone.
I got them bus tickets back to Maryland, got them something to eat and a place to stay for the night (their bus left at 7:15 on Tuesday night). The next morning I took them to Sox Place for a while and then they went over to the bus station to wait for their bus.
When I took them over to the bus station, I took some time to speak with them about their lives and how they didn’t have to live under the curse of no father, but could, with God’s help, live a life that was different. I told them they were special and that I was blessed to have met them, thankful that God had let me be part of their lives. I then prayed for them and over them; that was really special!
Shannon is back safe with her mother and family. David is tagging along, hoping to find his way in this life! Thank you for your support that allows us to be part of the rescue of two very wonderful teenagers who had stumbled into a trap. Thank you for standing with us so we can stand with the fatherless and those that are at risk.
*Magazine crews recruit young people with enticing ads such as, “Travel the country and earn as much as $[some ridiculous amount of money] per day!” The crew then sends them somewhere far from home to sell magazines door-to-door. When pay day rolls around, they don’t get a dime. The claim is that the young person didn’t make enough in sales to cover the cost of the hotel, food, travel, and training, thus being in debt to the company. The truth is that they will never make enough to get out of debt, and they are often threatened, beaten, and molested to force them stay with the crew.
Last week, we sent out an email letting our supporters know that we were running extremely low on food and socks. Within a week, our pantry and sock crates were overflowing!
[singlepic id=297 w=320 h=240 float=none]
This picture is the food from just one church, Eastern Hills Community Church in Aurora, who donated.
In addition to Eastern Hills, we would also like to thank Englewood Fist Assembly of God, Grace Community Church, Boulder County Community Church, Kevin and Carol Bohren, and all the individuals who gave so generously to help meet our needs to help the homeless and at-risk youth of Denver!
The type of kids walking through the door at Sox Place is constantly evolving and changing. Often we see many of the same kids month after month, but there are always a few new faces in the crowd. One of our favorite parts of this job is getting the opportunity to look into the lives of these people and the subcultures that they belong to.
A couple of weeks ago, our great friends from Sk8 Church (a ministry from Steamboat Springs, CO) came and helped us out for the day. They helped us out and built a quarter pipe skate ramp in our basement, which was a great addition to the few “skating features” we already had. Now we have a mini-skate park at Sox Place, a feature that allows us to reach an entirely new group of teens.
As a staff, we are always looking for more creative ways to reach out to kids that might not normally come to Sox Place. Growing this new skate ministry is something that all of us are extremely passionate about. Since we added our basement skate park, we have had at least a dozen new kids come to Sox Place, mainly to skate. This addition has given us a tremendous opportunity to reach new kids. When it snows here in Denver, which happens quite a bit these days, we have the ability to bring in even more of the skateboard subgroup because they can’t go to the Denver skate park.
We would love to build up this new ministry outreach. We would love to add more rails and ramps and be able to have even more extra skateboards on hand to let the kids borrow. If you have any access to these types of resources, please consider donating to Sox Place. The more kids we have the ability to reach, the more people we can mentor and reach out to and share the love of Christ with.
It is rare that homeless kids get brand new clothes to wear, but thanks to Shane and Patty Rose of Utah, they will! Take a look at all these new clothes for the homeless youth of Denver!
[singlepic id=286 w=320 h=240 float=none]
[singlepic id=287 w=320 h=240 float=none]
[singlepic id=288 w=320 h=240 float=none]
When I first got involved with Sox Place almost 10 years ago, our kids were primarily of one sub-culture, the gutter punk. They were anti-government, anti- law, anti-cop, anti-authority, and anti-pretty much everything that got in their way of drinking, fighting, and having “fun.” We still have some of those kids, but now, the kids that come to Sox Place are so diverse that we see many different attitudes and mindsets. They are from different backgrounds and ethnicity.
One major change that I have seen that is positive is that our kids don’t really consider it cool to be living on the streets anymore. In previous years, you got most of your streets status by how long you had been homeless. Now many of our kids want desperately to break the cycle of homelessness, joblessness, and the street lifestyle they are living.
This can be quite a daunting task for many of our youth. So many of them have never been taught the basic life skills that you and I can take for granted. No one was around to teach them how to get up and be on time, how to accept direction and correction from authority, how to look presentable for a job interview, and how to manage the little money they get. Even basic personal hygiene that we were taught as children is foreign to them. It’s easy to write many of these things off as common sense, but when the example your parents give you is violence, welfare abuse, food stamps, taking advantage of the government disability program, and drug and alcohol abuse, common sense becomes not so common for them.
Many of our kids are realizing this is no way to live, and that is very encouraging for me. Therefore, we are adapting our services to include the “Streets2Stability” program. This program is where we teach these basic lessons through a three month internship. We are also helping in the job hunting process, giving bus fare and clothes that are appropriate for interviews.
One of the critical ways you can help these kids who are trying very hard to get off the streets is to let us know if you have any job leads; that would be invaluable. No matter what kind of work it is, we can try and fit one of our youths for the job. We also have a 5280 program where you can commit to donating $52.80 a month to help pay for more “Streets2Stability” participants and other services. Sometimes it only takes one person willing to take a risk for these kids for them to rise to the occasion, and break the cycle.
These are exciting times here at Sox Place and hold a lot of hope for our kids, as it is now they who want to make a change, not everyone around them wanting to change them.
“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far it is possible to go.” — T.S. Eliot
For all of us, it is often easy in life not to take risks. Easier to stand by and watch than to put our necks on the line in an attempt to change a certain situation. Or maybe some of us are great “dreamers” but we have a hard time, when it comes time, to step up and follow through with our dreams because of fear. No matter how great or miniscule, we deal with risk, everyday all of the time. There are statistics that can be looked at to evaluate the amount of risk involved in any given situation to either encourage people or deter people from doing things.
Sox Place is an environment all about taking risks. The only reason Sox Place even exists today is because of some very monumental risk taking. If Doyle had not taken a HUGE risk, over a decade ago now, and moved his family and entire life to Denver, Sox Place would not be here. If the people who continuously donate their time, money, and prayer, Sox Place would not survive the way it does today. If our staff members did not step out and decide that they would rather work with the kids at Sox Place, doing this ministry, rather than any number of career choices, Sox Place would not be what it is today.
People will often tell you that working with the type of kids that come to Sox Place is a risk that is just not worth taking. People will say that the risk is so much greater than the reward. However, isn’t this what is so amazing about Jesus and his ministry? Whether it is the story of the woman at the well or Jesus choosing to use fishermen as the men who will forever change history through his ministry, he leads a great example of what it means for us to be risk takers.
Lately, this is an issue that God has been laying on my heart in a huge way. One thing we always say at Sox Place is “We need to give them the best we’ve got.” We may not always have the best food for the kids or the sweetest new clothes but we always give them the best we have. It is so important for our ministry that this is also the case in all of our interactions with our kids, because they are worth the risk. God doesn’t call us to be complacent or to just try to meet the needs of the kids that walk through our door. God calls us to daily take risks and put our necks on the line for the people we serve.
As Jesus showed us how to be risk takers through his ministry, so can we show our kids how to be risk takers through ours.
The New Year has already come with challenges. We lost one of our “kids” a few weeks ago and participated in his funeral two days ago. As always, when one of them dies they all go into a period of self-destruct in some fashion or another. For most it’s drugs and liquor, some it’s violence, others pulling away from the relationships with people who love them, and some it’s all the above. As a staff, and as many of them our friends, we try to be there for them any way we can through this process.
Last night I drove across town to bring supplies to several of our kids including the wife and best friend of Chuck, the guy who died. They had managed to find an apartment to stay in for a couple of days. One of them that I am particularly close with called me yesterday and asked if I could bring him clothes, some groceries, dog food, and other stuff so they could stay in the apartment. I understood and was happy to do so, knowing that this will give him and the others time away from the drama of the streets and more time to grieve. As I drove home, I thought about how difficult it must be to deal with these hard times in life, like death of a loved one, when you don’t even know where your next meal is coming from or how your going to stay warm so you can sleep out in a snow storm.
As I began to pray for them, I started to think about all the kids I have seen die over the last nine years I have been involved at Sox Place. So many good people have lost their lives to these streets. I pray that Sox Place can remain a cornerstone in these kids’ lives, that we can be here not only to provide a meal, clothes and other physical needs, but to also be a friend that can talk with them and influence them in a positive way. To show them there is more out there than hardship, that they can have peace and grace and love. Let us be examples of that.
As I stood on the tile beside the door, getting my mind ready for the blast of cold and snow that I was about to encounter, I looked down at my boots. My ugly boots. My old, dirty, ugly boots. I’d had them since high school – about ten years now. Ten years is a long time to have a pair of shoes when you’re only 26 and female. They were a sort-of faded black – I couldn’t remember if they had always been that color or if they had faded over time – with dirt on the top of one of them that I couldn’t seem to get off. They were size almost-too-big. Clunky was a good description for them; I sounded like a 300 pound drunk man when I walked across the floor. And they were plain. Completely plain, except for the drawstring around the top to keep the snow from getting inside. They were my old, dirty, ugly boots.
Trekking across the yet-to-be-plowed parking lot toward my bus stop, through snow drifts up to my ankles, I was almost thankful for those ugly boots. But just almost. When I sat down on the bus, my feet were dry and warm, which is important to a cold-natured person such as myself. But they were still my ugly boots. I couldn’t help but frown down at them, no matter how subconsciously thankful I was for unfrozen toes.
With my feet under my desk at work, I didn’t have to think about my unsightly boots too much. I went to work, getting done what I had planned to finish that day in no time. This made it so I could help out in the drop-in center for most of the day, hanging out with the street youth that come into Sox Place. Between getting warm socks for the kids and cleaning up coffee spills – cold, numb hands don’t attach well to warm cups of coffee – it was easy to ignore the sound of big-foot coming from my own boots.
Not long after we opened, a girl came in almost unnoticed among the extra-large crowd that Sox Place attracts on snowy days. But she stood out a little more than the others – at least to me. The coat she had on looked warm enough, but it was obviously too small. Small tufts of blonde hair poked out of her too-tight hood just enough to see that neither a comb nor shampoo had touched it in weeks. Her nose was running and her face was red. Her lips looked as if she were to try to smile, they would start bleeding in about ten places. She had her sleeping bag draped over most of her body so as to keep the flying snow away as she walked. The legs of her jeans were wet half-way up to her knees from being dragged through slush. And her non-waterproof boots looked as if someone had soaked them in a bathtub of ice water overnight before giving them to her to wear.
She came up to me and asked, barely audible, “Can I go downstairs to get shoes and some dry clothes?”
“Absolutely,” I responded, as I led her to the donation room. I pointed to the piles of shoes and coats while she removed the load from her back.
“Thank you,” she said, her voice a little stronger. “I got here as fast as I could. My feet are so cold. I tried to run, but I couldn’t feel my feet. I almost fell.” She looked down at her sloshy boots and took a step. “Oh! They hurt so bad!” She walked closer to the shoes. “Oh, they hurt!”
I didn’t know what to tell her. Frostbite was the first thing that came to my mind, but I didn’t want to tell her that. Surly she didn’t have frostbite. “Maybe you should take off your wet socks and shoes, and I’ll go get you some dry socks.”
She began to take off her shoes, and I went upstairs to grab some thick socks. When I came back, she had picked out some boots in her size (good thing she had small feet – they were the last pair of boots we had) and was headed toward the pile of coats, cursing her feet as she went.
I handed her the socks, and she sat down with a curse, “They hurt so bad! Why would they hurt so much?”
I looked at her bare feet as she rubbed them between her hands before putting on the socks. They were wrinkled, as if she had been in the shower too long. And red. So red it looked like she was overheated, but I knew it was just the opposite. “I don’t know,” I answered. “Maybe it’s like after you’ve been playing in the snow, then you come inside and wash your hands in warm water, and it hurts a lot because your fingers got so cold.”
She didn’t respond to my answer. I’m not sure if she thought it was as dumb as I thought it had sounded or if she was thinking about it. Either way, she finished her business and put on her new-found, fitting coat and warm, waterproof boots.
As I watched her toss her old, soaked boots to the side, I couldn’t help but look down at my own feet. Maybe it was the lighting in that basement or the fact that I was standing on a crumbling concrete floor, but for some reason, my boots didn’t look quite so ugly anymore.
By Kara Knight